Reviews

June 24, 2013

The Young Magician, Practicing His Tricks 1

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The effect of The Savage Detectives is to blur the line between history and fiction, to envelop whatever Bolaño and his friends actually did in Mexico in the 1970’s in a self-aggrandizing, romanticized cloud of smoke – and we imagine all of his poetry, written so many years ago in a notebook lost somewhere in Mexico, must have been really good. But it turns out that Bolaño’s juvenile writing reads very much like juvenile writing.

June 18, 2013

A Genre Is Born: The Babylon Rite Slaughters Its Darlings 0

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Walter Benjamin would have loved this guy Tom Knox. He didn’t just dissolve a genre. He poured half a dozen genres into a literary Waring blender and hit the puree button.

June 14, 2013

The Silence Artist: On The Selected Letters of Willa Cather 5

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Cather was one of nature’s miracles, possessed from an early age of an unaccountable conviction that she was meant for something. Yes, she was female, and she lived in Nebraska. The world of letters was a long way away in every sense. Cather could not have been unaware of these facts. But as Joan Acocella puts it, Cather simply opened the door to artistic freedom and walked through it.

June 6, 2013

The Real and the Imagined: On Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic 2

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The more heavily McCann relies on historical figures, as distinct from history, the weaker his writing is; the more sparingly he uses historical figures, the stronger the writing is.

June 5, 2013

Modern Life is Rubbish: Tao Lin’s Taipei 94

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There is a small, deadly class of book that makes you never want to set pen to paper again. Tao Lin’s novel is a grave case of this kind, where you are faced with the consequences of writing down all the things you do or think. What if they sound like this? Colorless, witless, humorless. Picking out individual passages cannot express their cumulative monotonous assault on the senses.

June 4, 2013

Bearing the Burden: The Moral Cost of a Professional Army 1

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Fire and Forget, written by veterans (and one Army wife), stands as the best fictional account of the wars of the last decade and the contemporary military experience, and as such, is utterly damning of the devil’s bargain the nation and its military have entered into.

May 31, 2013

The Worst Beach Read: On Amy Sackville’s Orkney 0

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Richard compiles instead an “endless index” of his wife, which I’ve collected and will reproduce here lest anyone be looking for a new pet name for his or her significant other: little half-breed; daughter of the sea; shape-shifting goddess; barefoot urchin; frog princess; faery queen; nymph; northern girl; tricky capricious Ariel; clamped little clamshell; frond of pallid wrack; spined and spiky urchin; storm-witch; and little limpet.

May 23, 2013

Free to Be Depressed and Alone: On George Packer’s The Unwinding 3

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Occasionally, societies fall apart. These are the voices of those caught in the current American vortex of disconnection and angst.

May 21, 2013

At the Frontiers of the Unsayable: Bennett Sims’s A Questionable Shape 4

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There may be readers who will — on discovering that A Questionable Shape combines a quest, a romance, humor, and an epidemic of zombies, with philosophy, footnotes, history, science, the arts, half of Daniel Webster, cascades of lyricism and truckloads of realism — refuse to so much as open the back cover. I wish they would rethink their decision.

May 16, 2013

The Museum of Unhappy Women: Z by Therese Anne Fowler 2

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Paradoxically, this is the reason to write and read about Zelda, because she deserved a life much more interesting than the one that she got. Interesting to her, that is, a life she could have given her energy and talents to, not just a life made interesting by famous friends and European capitals.